Few bands in recent years have enjoyed the critical acclaim that this influential rock band has received. Formed in 1987 by the remnants of crucial hardcore bands Embrace and Rites of Spring, this band has reached the title of underground legends. This reputation is not the result of their evolution of hardcore punk and their experimentation with several other musical genres but of their ethics and ideals. This essay’s purpose is to expose one of the best bands of the American underground. Fugazi is composed of vocalist and guitarist Ian Mackaye, vocalist and guitarist Guy Picciotto, bassist Joe Lally, and drummer Brendan Canty.
To start to chronicle Fugazi’s history, one must first look at their hardcore roots. Ian Mackaye was the vocalist of the iconic and often called “definitive” hardcore punk band Minor Threat formed in 1980. Minor Threat has a legendary status in the punk scene because of their music, their ideas and their approach. After Minor Threat disbanded in 1983, Mackaye went to form Embrace in 1985. Meanwhile, Guy Picciotto was part of Rites of Spring, often called the “first and definitive emocore band,” formed in 1984. These two influential bands were part of the movement known as “Revolution Summer,” an attempt to change the punk scene to more melodic music and introspective lyrics; several hardcore bands from the 80’s had attracted a lot of violence and intolerance because of their aggressive music and raging lyrics. The two bands were short-lived, and their members joined other groups. Ian Mackaye then formed a trio with Joe Lally and Colin Sears, who left and was replaced by Brendan Canty. Fugazi is a Vietnam acronym for bad combat scenarios that stands for F*cked Up, Got Ambushed, Zipped In. After a few shows they decided to add Picciotto into the mix and continued playing for several years.
Fugazi are very difficult to classify and labeling them into a single genre is nearly impossible and, in some ways, insulting. Their music integrates elements of punk, hardcore, noise rock, and even soul, with innovative rhythms influenced by funk, jazz, reggae and dub. In fact, they have been categorized as post punk and post hardcore by many critics because their music is an evolution, progression and reaction to hardcore punk. This band is also notable because of the interlocking guitars of Picciotto and Mackaye, which stay in a balance as equals, unlike most bands that have a leading guitar and a rhythm guitar. Also, the contrast in both guitarists singing styles is fascinating. Mackaye’s hardcore roots make his singing be way more straightforward and anthem-like while Picciotto prefers a more abstract way of singing. Their experimental sounds have influenced many bands, like At the Drive-In and are regarded as one of the best bands of the last twenty years.
Just as famous as their groundbreaking music are their ethics and ideals. They’re one of those hard-to-find bands that, while keeping their DIY punk ethics, still achieved mainstream success. They normally charged form $5 to $10 per show and insisted that their shows be open for everybody, age notwithstanding. They don’t sell merchandise like posters, pins, patches or t-shirts because they thought that having a person managing merchandise involved more costs and they wanted to keep the prices of their albums and shows at a minimum. At their shows, Fugazi encouraged the underage fans to wear black exes on their hands to stop them from consuming alcohol, particularly, a tradition created by Mackaye during his days at Teen Idles, a band older than Minor Threat. Much of Fugazi’s reputation comes from word of mouth. They had the reputation of powerful, cathartic shows and an eagerness to play anywhere. Another famous characteristic of Fugazi is that they, unlike most bands from their time, discouraged slam dancing, fist fights, and moshpits during their shows and are ready to stop playing and ask the problematic people to step out with their money back so they can continue their show.
Fugazi have proved to be one of the most revered bands in the American Indie and Punk scenes because of their contribution to music. Just the fact that they never sold out when they had a myriad chances proves how valuable their music was for them, an admirable quality. In this conformist and corporative world where sounds are synthesized and copied to manipulate the masses, those underdogs that rebel against the mainstream and seek to achieve musical pleasure are the ones that are worth listening to. Many bands have taken Fugazi’s example but no band will ever compare to the greatness that was Fugazi, the band that could.